Wednesday, December 29th, 2004


Defensive Coordinator John Chavis

On his connection to Texas A&M Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush: “It goes back a long way. Dan Brooks is really where it gets tied in. Dan Brooks is our defensive line coach and he and Carl coached together at North Carolina. We hired Dan from that staff probably 11 years ago. Since that time, there has been a lot of things that have gone back and forth. É In the coaching profession when you play somebody, that’s your competition and that’s the way you’ve got to look at it. You want to win, but Carl Torbush is a good friend of mine, he’s a good friend of our staff, we’re gonna want to win the football game, they’re gonna want to win the football game. But there are a lot of close ties.”

On whether or not that connection is beneficial to both coaching staffs: “I think so, and that’s not the only staff obviously that we do that with, and that’s a way to grow. You look at what other people are doing, you share ideas, and the bottom line is you’ve got to fit those ideas to your personnel. Some fit, some don’t. You’ve got to tie it into your scheme and what you’re doing, but through the years you’re going to see a lot of similarities because it’s not just last spring. This thing goes back eight or 10 years, so I think when you look at the two schemes, you’re going to see a lot of similarities.”

On containing Texas A&M QB Reggie McNeal: “I think the easiest way to contain him is if Coach Franchione didn’t bring him to the game. That would probably be the only way. He is truly a great athlete. We’ve had an opportunity to look at all their games. He has grown with their scheme. He understands. The thing that is so impressive about him is that he takes care of the football. He doesn’t throw interceptions, he doesn’t throw the ball into coverage. He does a great job and obviously he’s got wheels that he can run with the ball when he needs to. That makes it really, really difficult. I think maybe you can do that (contain him) for a period of time, but he’s a playmaker, and he runs their offense well.

On what’s been the difference for the defense the past three games: “There has been a lot of different things. The biggest thing has been where we were in terms of our young secondary. We kind of got settled in, and then we had a couple of injuries. We had to shuffle people around. I think that’s where the biggest inconsistency has come. The truth of the matter is we were a young defense, but we can’t use that anymore. We had a full season to grow up and to mature. Hopefully we’re going to play better. Everybody wants to come back to the last three games. To be honest with you, I’ve been the coordinator at Tennessee for nine years and we’ve never had three games of that magnitude or looked like that back to back. But again, we’ve never played with a defense this young. We’re going to take our licks now, and I say, ‘If you’re going to get us, you better get us now because when we grow up we’re going to be pretty good.’”

On what DT Jesse Mahelona has meant to the team: “As I said when I introduced him, there’s no doubt for a first year player he has made a bigger impact on our football team because there were obviously two positions we were really, really concerned with after losing a number of players last year and a number the year before. And defensive tackle was one of them. We brought absolutely nobody back that had any experience that amounted to anything at defensive tackle. Jesse brought a work ethic. I call it a love for the game. He’ll go out and practice every day at full speed. With just that attitude, he has made everyone around him work harder. Obviously to do what he has done as a first-year player and make All-American is quite a big feat. So he has meant a lot to our football team. He has made our front four and our front seven a tremendous amount better.

DE Parys Haralson

On comments made that at times the team seemed to be more focused on partying than practicing before last year’s bowl game: “I try to keep to myself when it’s time for me to get ready to play. I can’t really say what everybody else is doing. Probably some guys were, but the majority of guys were there to play.”

On the intensity at practice this week: “We’ve had three great days of practices on Sunday, Monday and yesterday. Practicing hard, everybody is running to the ball, trying to get ready for this game.”

On the earlier curfew this week: “For me personally, it doesn’t really matter. Even if curfew was at 10 o’clock, I’d probably already be in my bed anyway. It probably does affect some of the guys, but not me. Most guys just accept that it’s curfew and we’re out here to take care of business and we’ve got to get ready. We’re here to take care of business. We’re here to have fun and enjoy ourselves. But when it’s time to take care of business, we’ve got to take care of business.

On the loss of DE Karlton Neal: “I think Karlton Neal is the quiet leader. He plays so hard and he practices so hard. He’s one of the guys that everyone on the team goes to and jokes with and plays around with. With him not being here means someone else needs to step up. Jason Hall is ready to step up. You’ve got Antonio Reynolds, Xavier Mitchell, Jared Hostetter, any of those guys are ready.

On Texas A&M QB Reggie McNeal: “I don’t think we’ve played a quarterback who can run like quite like McNeal does. He’s one of those quarterbacks who can run it, he can throw it. We’ve just got to try to contain him, try to keep pressure on him. You’ve got to watch for a lot of different things, but you’ve still got to go out and play football. and if he breaks the pocket we’ve got to hustle downfield and try to catch him. It’s part of the game. We’ve still got to rush the right rush lanes and keep him contained.”

On the helping the secondary earlier in the season: “When our secondary was young we wanted to keep more pressure on the quarterback to help them out a little bit. Sometimes they had to cover receivers more than we could get a pass rush. We ended up helping each other and working as a team.

FS Jason Allen

On their curfew: “The past few years we haven’t had a curfew the first couple of nights. I really haven’t been going out. I’ve been going to sleep around 10 or 11. We’ve got a bunch of activities, and it kind of puts a wear and tear on you. Some guys can come in at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and be ready for practice, but my body won’t allow for it.”

On making adjustments within the secondary for the benefit of the team: “This is a team sport, it takes 11 guys on the field. I have the mentality that no matter where I am playing, I’m going to give my team a chance and go out and make plays. I made the adjustment, and I have the mentality that I’m going to make plays. I feel like that’s carried me a long way.”

On this being an opportunity for the secondary to answer some of their critics: “A lot of people have doubted our secondary and our defense, but we’re capable of doing the job. If you look at the games, we held Georgia to 150 passing yards and played well against the good teams. But then against Kentucky and Vanderbilt giving up so many passing yards, it made people wonder how good this secondary really is. It makes it kind of suspect.”

On whether those poor performances made them mad collectively or individually: “From an individual standpoint it does because you know you’re better than that. It’s the same from a team standpoint. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Oklahoma, USC, Kentucky or Vanderbilt, we’ve got to go out with the same approach that we’re going to get better and we’re going to dominate. You’ve got to have that mentality and that confidence.”

On playing against Reggie McNeal: “You’ve got to be disciplined and read your keys. They’re going to tell you whether it’s a run or a pass, and if we do that we should be OK. He’s a versatile quarterback and has great receivers.”

LB Kevin Burnett

On Texas A&M: “They have receivers who catch the ball well and a quarterback who can run. I’d say Florida State with Charlie Ward would be a good comparison with running backs all over the place, receivers all over the place. You’ve got to defend the whole field.”

On not getting burned by other players because of a heavy focus on McNeal: “You play your spot. If you’re playing zone, you take care of your zone, I’ll take care of mine. If you’re playing man and he goes upstairs and around the stadium, then you go upstairs and around the stadium with him. “

On being afraid that McNeal is going to break a big play: “No, because you always have somebody coming so as long as everybody plays their assignment and nobody forgets about what they have, then he shouldn’t get loose or get too many yards. As long as we play our game and don’t get away from what we do well, it should be a fun football game to watch.”

On differences in preparation between this year and the last two: “We’ve spent a lot more time focusing on A&M where as before we’d focus on our opponent and also on ourselves. This year it hs been A&M, A&M, A&M and we’ve left Tennessee alone.”

On best part of the bowl experience: “I’d say the week-long vacation and the memories you take with you. One thing I’ll always treasure about my college experience is my five bowl trips. The fans, the stories you hear, the bus rides to and from practice, singing on the bus. Those are some of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had. ”

DT Jesse Mahelona

On the team being underestimated this year: “At the beginning of the season everyone was saying that Tennessee was on the decline, they’re not the team they used to be. But that’s what they get paid to do is to talk. Obviously we proved a lot of people wrong when we went to the SEC championship. I don’t believe Tennessee is on the decline, and I truly think Tennessee will win a national championship in the next four years.”

On feeling pressure because of the young secondary: “It’s always good for the defensive line to put pressure on and try to take pressure off the defensive backs. It’s something we need to keep on doing.”

On his experience being a transfer and if he expected to make: “My goal was to come in and start and make a contribution.”

P Dustin Colquitt

On how effective a punter can be in the area of field position: “Each week we put a big emphasis on getting the ball inside the 10-yard line and inside the 5-yard line, depending on our field position. It’s just unbelievable when you get a team stuck inside the 20, inside the 10-yard line on how the percentages go down and how hard it is to go the length of the field and score a touchdown.”

On how field position becomes even more important when a team has a big-play person: “The offensive coordinator of the team we’re playing has to reach in the playbook and try something else when you’re that far backed up. You have to maybe run a couple of running plays.”

On what the kicking game means to the Tennessee program: “I want to show that the special teams have a big outcome on how the game is going to end. If James Wilhoit, who’s a great kicker, puts them in the end zone every time, we don’t have to worry about them breaking away and getting to the 25 or the 35-yard line. It’s the same with punts. If we get it inside the 5-yard line, our defense is not only going to be psyched up to play real close to that end zone, we’re going to get the ball back in good field position. I just want to take as much stress as possible off our offense and put the defense in the right situation to make plays.”

--69th SBC Cotton Bowl Classic--